University of Iowa

Agency, Struggle, and Transformation of Character in the Novel

Weeklong July 08 to July 13 2018

Agency is the word for a character’s central role in pushing a story forward. Often a first draft traps us in a story with characters who are victims, who are passive, or who just can’t figure out what to do next. But responsibility for one’s own fate is a big part of making a character memorable. How do you assess your protagonist’s agency, especially if your character is in trouble? You build character struggle that comes from obstacles between what is desired and what seems possible. You upset the equilibrium and put good things at risk. Does every novel have to be about a hero? Absolutely not. Characters can fail and still become, just as characters can achieve but discover they have lost their true selves.


In the whole group and in smaller ones, we will look at your manuscript (or outline) and assess plot points in terms of agency, struggle, and transformation. You will write and share new scenes and summaries that deepen the meaning of your protagonist’s journey. We will also build scene sequences (how to get from here to there) so that you go home with plans for writing or revising. You’ll need a solid summary or chapter outline and a couple chapters. More is better, but the pages don’t have to be perfect, or even “great” at this point.